Anaconda is great stuff, no matter what anyone says. Revered as a B Movie cheese-ball, it holds up far better than anyone remembers, and there’s a lot to love about it. Reminiscent of creature feature stuff like James Cameron’s Piranha 2, Lewis Teague’s Alligator and Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, it carved out its own nasty little adventure/horror story with neat characters, impressive effects for the snake and a knowing sense of fun. It sets the tone with a suspenseful prologue that sees poor poacher Danny Trejo stalked, attacked and killed by an unseen serpent, before the title card marches gloriously across the screen in true horror form. Then it follows a national geographic film crew led by intrepid Jennifer Lopez, whilst Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Vincent Castellanous, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and sexy Kari Wuhrur tag along, pretty much for snake bait and for us to place drunken bets on who’s gonna get nabbed by the beast first. Along the way they meet the most engaging character of the film, a whack job big game hunter played to cockeyed perfection by Jon Voight and his greasy ponytail. Sputtering out ominous warnings in a warped, tailored South American accent, willfully misleading their party into danger and staring creepily at anyone in his scope of vision, he’s hilarious and clearly knew the right recipe of branded camp and genuine menace to put into the work. It’s a glorified B Flick for sure, but one that knows its place, showcases a big old fashioned movie monster and whisks the viewer away for some solid gold escapism. Do avoid the sequel though (Hunt For The Blood Orchid), it’s about as interesting as cardboard.
In the jungle you must wait, until the dice reads five or eight. So professes a mysterious board game possessed by dark magic to young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd), a boy with no clue just how far an innocent roll of the dice can take you. From the first ominous drumbeat the game utters, until the last fading tones it plays the film out with, Jumanji is a giddy rush of pure adventure, with a refreshingly dark and primal side to its mayhem. Alan disappears from the 1950’s and we fast forward 25 years later. Young orphans Peter and Judy (Kirsten Dunst & Bradley Pierce) are moving into his old family home, so fate (and those damn creepy drums) would have them find the Jumanji in the attic, and continue the game Alan started with Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) over a decade ago. Suddenly every jungle creature, meteorological phenomenon and 90’s CGI monster erupts from the game into their little town, causing a mess that goes beyond the word havoc. This includes a near feral middle aged Alan, now played by Robin Williams. Together with a most reluctant Sarah, the quartet try to stop the destruction, play the game, but mostly just survive this onslaught. Psychotic monkeys, mutant mosquitoes, an elephant stampede, monsoons, giant spiders (fucking shudder) and crocodiles are but a few of the wonders awaiting them. My favourite has to be murderous Victorian game hunter Van Pelt, played mightily by stage actor Jonathan Hyde, with a pith helmet and an epic mustache that would make Kurt Russell chortle. Hyde does excellent double duty as both the deranged hunter and Alan’s stern but loving father, a tough contrast he handles like a champ. I admire the film’s willingness to go creepy and dark, despite being geared towards kids. The danger feels real, the game has an eerie mysticism to it, a life of it’s own that gives you goosebumps. Not often do family orientated films have a shred of real fear in them anymore, so let’s count our blessings with this one, still holding strong today. The special effects are dated in places (those monkeys, man) and wonderful in others (that hardwood floor quicksand tho), but you have to cut them some slack, it being 1996 after all. Williams and Hunt have snarky banter that barely hides their love for each other, and it’s one of my favourite onscreen pairings he ever had with a gal. He makes Alan resourceful, kind and just a little bit crazy, but the guy did spend years alone in a treacherous jungle straight out of your nightmares, so that can be expected. Amidst the chaos you can look out for Patricia Clarkson, a deadpan Bebe Neurith and David Alan Grier as well. There’s a lot of stuff crammed into the film, but never does it feel bloated or crippled by it’s own weight, flowing nicely and taking time where it can to develop character and give it’s human cast just as much to do as all the crazy jungle stuff. I’m surprised I never saw any of this go down as a kid, because parts of it were filmed blocks from my neighborhood, and CGI was scant back then, so much of it would have physically been there, large and loud. Maybe I did, and have since forgotten. I definitely haven’t forgotten any of the film, though, and allow for repeated viewings whenever I have the time. It’s one of the best, most thrilling adventure stories of its time and ages well as each year passes. Cue the drums.